Machete (Film Review)
3 & ½ out of 4 stars
Action fans all over the world can rejoice, as the bloodiest and most badass film of the year hacks its way into theatres. Intentionally overflowing with sleaze and camp, director Robert Rodriguez’s latest outing instantly charms with its outrageous black humour, hilarious action, and loving tributes to 70’s exploitation cinema. Although it’s definitely not a date movie, fans of the genre and Rodriguez’s previous work should easily be satisfied by the abundance of wild thrills on offer here.
‘Machete’ stars veteran actor Danny Trejo as the title character, a tough as nails Mexican mercenary living in Texas as an illegal immigrant. Down on his luck and desperate for money, Machete accepts a dangerous job from mysterious businessman Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey): assassinate Senator John McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro), whose anti-immigration policies threaten to destroy the state’s economy, and he will be provided with a new identity and enough cash to escape his grim past.
Unfortunately, the ploy turns out to be a trap, and Machete soon finds himself a wanted fugitive after a failed attempt on the Senator’s life. Pursued by sinister forces on both sides of the law, Machete must use the help of immigrations officer Santana Rivera (Jessica Alba) and fellow outlaw She (Michelle Rodriguez) to stay alive and gain revenge on the criminals who wronged him.
Arguably, the film’s biggest asset is its star-studded cast. In his first lead role, Danny Trejo effortlessly radiates lethal cool as the gruff ex-con, growling out one-liners with enough machismo to make Sylvester Stallone envious. Similarly, the ladies of ‘Machete’ also light up the screen, bringing the film some of its wittiest dialogue and action as well as the expected sex appeal. Lindsay Lohan in particular impresses as April Booth, a drug-addicted socialite whose role cleverly parodies the actresses’ real-life woes.
Like the best shoot-em-ups however, the real stars of the cast are the fiendishly over-the-top villains. In a ballsy move, ‘Machete’ features not one, but four major antagonists gunning against the hero: Robert DeNiro as the corrupt senator, Jeff Fahey as the shady Booth, original Miami Vice star Don Johnson as the twisted border vigilante Von Jackson, and Steven Seagal as the drug kingpin who slaughters Machete’s family at the beginning of the film. All of the actors above bring repellent ooze to their roles, with Robert DeNiro especially delivering a delightfully despicable performance as an over-the-top parody of George W. Bush.
Additionally, ‘Machete’ is simply the most frenetic action picture since ‘Die Hard’ in 1998. Whether it’s the outrageous scene where Trejo rappels down a window Tarzan-style using a man’s long intestines as a rope, or the explosive final battle where he outruns a massive explosion on a motorbike, the film’s action scenes are both pulse-pounding in their thrills and outright hilarious in their goofy excess. In fact, it’s hard not to stifle a grin through much of the movie’s runtime.
In addition to its set pieces, the movie’s visceral thrills are also complemented by Robert Rodriguez’s stylish direction. Famed for visual extravaganzas such as ‘Sin City’ and the ‘Spy Kids’ series, Rodriguez once again lives up to his reputation with his latest film, as he includes all kinds of extreme close-ups, zooms, and slow motion scenes into the midst of the film’s mayhem. When coupled with John Debney’s testosterone-fuelled hard rock score, the results are nothing short of pulp action bliss.
‘Machete’ is also notable for the sly tributes it includes to 70’s ‘grindhouse’ cinema, or B-movie exploitation fare. The most notable of these is the grainy, spot-flecked nature of the film’s visuals, caused by Rodriguez deliberately damaging the film prints in order to recreate the poor camera quality of the original releases. Similarly, the exaggerated voice-overs and fake ads for upcoming films at the beginning and end of the film also nod to the film’s inspiration for the audience. For viewers familiar with their movie history, these references only add to the film’s self-mocking, humorous tone.
Lastly, ‘Machete’ also has a message to convey underneath its mayhem. As campy as villains such as Fahey’s corporate mogul and DeNiro’s senator may seem on the big screen, the evils they represent, racism towards minorities in America and the state’s dependence on forced immigrant workers, are real and painfully omnipresent in Border States such as Texas and Arizona. Those seeking for proof of the corruption in the area need only turn on CNN to see news of drugs being smuggled in underground tunnels across the border by U.S. cartels, much as in the film itself.
Although ‘Machete’s aims may be modest, it accomplishes them with more gusto and flair than any picture in recent memory. From start to finish, the film effortlessly swings between pulse-pounding tension and laugh-out-loud comedy, gleefully reviving the action genre as effectively as ‘Shaun of the Dead’ revived the horror genre. Once again, director Robert Rodriguez has clearly created a future cult classic.
‘Machete’ is currently available on DVD in Shenzhen.